Have Weighted Grades Outlived Their Usefulness?

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The foundational rationale for weighted grades is that the practice provides an incentive for learners to challenge themselves academically. By placing greater value on grades earned in more challenging classes, weighted grades remove a potential disincentive posed by tougher classes—i.e., learners worrying that a lower grade in a tougher class might adversely affect their GPA class rank. Advocates argue that weighted grades deservedly reward learners who take tougher classes, identify higher levels of educational accomplishment, and provide a more fair or balanced system of grading in schools with several educational tracks.

Even with all of its benefits, weighted grades do have many drawbacks, often pointed out by critics.

Critics of weighted grades tend to make the following arguments:

Weighted grades discourage learners from taking certain classes that may be educationally valuable, but that may not present a numerical advantage when calculating GPA and class rank. For example, art and music classes are rarely weighted, so learners may not contemplate art and music classes out of fear that such classes will adversely affect their GPA and class ranking.

Weighted grades are not academically significant unless the grades are based on a single set of learning standards that are assessed consistently from class to class. Unless schools can authenticate that a grade of A in one class represents greater educational accomplishment than an A earned in another class, the utilization of weighted grades can be misleading. For instance, it’s potential that a class labeled “college prep” may be more challenging than a class labeled “honors.”

Weighted grades may act as disincentives, rather than incentives, for learners. While weighted grades may make challenging classes seem less “risky” to learners, it’s also potential that learners, once enrolled in the class, usually won’t work as hard because a lower mark is worth as much as a higher mark in another class. Also, learners enrolled in lower-level classes know that the grading system is assigning their efforts less value. Even if a learner works hard and earns a good grade in a college-prep class, that effort will still be given a lower value than grades earned by learners in higher-level classes.

Weighted grades can devalue certain classes and reinforce cultural divisions within a school. Because both educators and learners know that lower-level classes are given a lower value, the practice of weighting grades reinforces the status associated with higher-level classes and the stigma associated with lower-level classes—for both educators and learners. Consequently, educators may not want to teach lower-level classes, and learners may feel embarrassed or ashamed to take them.

Weighted grades create opportunities for learners to manipulate the grading process. In this view, weighted grades focus learners on superficial outcomes—classmate competitionand higher scores, instead rather then more substantive outcomes, such as mastering new skills, exploring new concepts, learning from failure, or loving the learning process.

What do you think? Have weighted grades outlived their usefulness?

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